Category: South Side Slopes

  • 33rd Street Tunnel, South Side

    To the south, at the base of the steep South Side Slopes, was a small but crowded neighborhood of workmen and their families. To the north was a huge steel mill, a railroad roundhouse and shops, and a big brewery. In between was a railroad yard with more than twenty tracks to cross. How would the workmen get to work without getting run over by switching locomotives every day? The answer was to extend 33rd Street from the Slopes to the Flats as a pedestrian tunnel under the main line, followed by a long pedestrian bridge over the railroad yards.

    Hopkins real-estate plat map from 1923, showing the 33rd Street bridge and tunnel.

    The bridge and the railroad yard are gone now; the tunnel remains, but since it goes nowhere it is blocked. The tunnel entrance is still attractive in its stony simplicity.

  • Sterling Street, South Side Slopes

  • St. Josaphat’s Church, South Side Slopes

    Tower of St. Josaphat’s through autumn leaves
    St. Josaphat’s Church

    St. Josaphat’s is one of the most unusual of John T. Comès’ works. It has some of his trademarks, notably the stripes—he loved stripes. But it also takes more inspiration from Art Nouveau than most of his churches, which are usually more firmly rooted in historical models. It is now having some renovation work done to fit it for its post-church life.

    St. Josaphat’s Church
  • Mission Pumping Station, South Side Slopes

    Carved face

    Imagine the uproar that would ensue if your city government today decided to hire a Beaux-Arts master like Thomas Scott to design a monumental palace for such a utilitarian purpose as a water-pumping station. Imagine the inquiries that would probe the vital questions of how much each of those carved faces cost and why stone trim was used when the same object could be accomplished with aluminum. The world has made a lot of progress since Scott, architect of the Benedum-Trees Building downtown (where he kept his architectural office, naturally), gave us this $100,000 pumping station on an out-of-the-way street on the South Side Slopes.1

    Mission Pumping Station

    There were doubtless security reasons for bricking in the towering windows that used to flood the place with light. But Father Pitt cannot help suspecting that the real reason is that the workers here constituted a sort of men’s club, and men’s clubs in Pittsburgh abhor natural light.

    Corner of the Mission Pumping Station
    Carved face and wreath
    Carved face from the side
    Carved face from below
    Entrance ornament
    Carved face from the other side
    Mission Street front

    Even in November, much of the building is obscured by trees.

    End of the building
    1. Our source is the Construction Record, March 4, 1911: “The City of Pittsburg, Bureau of Water, will receive estimates until March 13th, on constructing a one-story brick, terra cotta and steel pumping station on Mission street, South Side, to cost $100,000. Plans were drawn by Architect T. H. Scott, Machesney building, and contract for foundation work was awarded to M. O’Herron & Co., First and McKean streets, South Side.” The Machesney Building was the original name of the Benedum-Trees Building. ↩︎
  • Uxor Way and St. Michael’s Church, South Side

    This is one of those only-in-Pittsburgh views: a glorious Romanesque church on the Slopes hovering over little frame alley houses on the Flats. St. Michael’s (now the Angel’s Arms apartments) was designed by Charles F. Bartberger, father of, and often confused with, the prolific Charles M. Bartberger.

  • South Side Slopes

    The Slopes from the Bluff

    Pittsburghers love to show out-of-town visitors the inclines, the dinosaurs at the Carnegie, the view from Mount Washington, the sandwiches with cole slaw and French fries piled inside, and other attractions of the big city. But often what the visitors talk about most is that they can’t believe how those houses cling to the side of a cliff. Here are some views of the South Side Slopes from the Bluff across the river, so that you can show out-of-town friends who have not yet visited that houses do indeed grow that way in Pittsburgh.

    Closer view
    Another section
  • South Side Slopes Houses

    House at 18th and Crosman Streets

    The acute angle of the intersection of Crosman Street with 18th Street on the South Side Slopes creates two odd-shaped lots filled with odd-shaped buildings, both of them irregular pentagons. Above, the one on the south side of Crosman is smashed up against a cliff, with a big billboard for its neighbor: South 18th Street is the old Brownsville Plank Road, and still the main route down from the South Hills neighborhoods to the South Side. Below, the house on the north corner sits at the head of a row of little Pittsburgh rowhouses, each of them altered according to the whims of decades of owners. The corner house is festooned with aluminum awnings; three of the other houses have aluminum awnings over the front doors, and two of them (the last two down the hill) are genuine Kool Vent awnings.

    Row of houses on 18th at Crosman

    These little rowhouses are a good example of the persistence of tradition in Pittsburgh vernacular architecture. They seem to have been put up in the early 1900s, with 1903 as a terminus post quem according to the Pittsburgh Historic Maps site; but they differ very little from the tiny, narrow rowhouses of the Civil War era.

  • Billy Buck Hill

    South 18th Street, which used to be the Brownsville Plank Road before it was taken into the city of Pittsburgh, snakes up through the South Side Slopes, following an ancient track that probably predates European settlement. It makes a long loop around a lumpy eminence known locally as Billy Buck Hill, where typical tall and narrow Slopes houses crowd on absurdly precipitous lots. These houses in the foreground are lined up along St. Paul Street. In the background, across the Mon, we see Oakland, which is as usual full of cranes.

    The usual story of the etymology of Billy Buck Hill has to do with goats having been kept there, and that seems plausible. But old Pa Pitt is not willing to swear to it, because it has the look of one of those ex-post-facto etymologies suggested speculatively as the probable reason for the name, and then picked up as the only possible explanation and presented as fact.

  • Dome of St. Josaphat Church, South Side Slopes

    Dome of St. Josaphat Church

    The distinctive dome of St. Josaphat Church, designed by John T. Comès, as seen from the Flats below.

  • W. Daub Building, South Side Slopes

    W. Daub Building

    This frame Second Empire building was put up in the 1880s, and old maps show it as belonging to W. Daub. It has seen better days: it has been sheathed in aluminum, and what was probably a storefront looks as though it has been filled in with a contractor’s remnants. If we look at the third floor, we can see a few lingering bits of what was once very decorative folk-art woodwork. Doubtless all the windows and doorways had similarly carved trim until the siding salesman came along. If old Pa Pitt had to guess, he would imagine this was a neighborhood hotel, which is to say a bar with rooms above to earn a “hotel” liquor license. You would hardly guess from the exterior, but there is still a working bar on the ground floor, apparently much beloved by the locals.

    Carved wood
    Oblique view